Wednesday, 9 June 2010


I had peculiarly intense and vivid dreams last night involving a complicated bit of theatre magic whereby, through cunning use of lighting, sightlines and mirrors, "something" appeared out of "nothing", to the amazement of public and stage inhabitants alike.

Upon waking, I realised that the most likely prompt had been my musings on how to achieve a particular vocal effect for a modern opera - the voice coming von Nichts - from nothing - however, the mind being the subtle and wonderful instrument it is, there were also reflections of many aspects of my situation, where deeper thought is currently both necessary and enriching (I find such hyper-vivid dreams often arise when one needs to think about certain aspects of one's life; useful thing, the subconscious.)

The common thread is "becoming". As human beings, of course, we live in a continual state of change, but I am lucky in that the choices are so obviously wide open in my case. New country, new environment, new flat, new roles... I do not HAVE to follow any tracks I may previously have laid. I can reinvent myself. Or choose a fresh path. I can make it all up as I go along! Naturally that's not to say I'm a completely blank slate - what I have lived through and loved has had a formative effect on who I think I am - but I believe that one can make conscious decisions about habits or prejudices, about how one appears to the rest of the world, and that the easiest time to do this is in a new environment, where others do not have expectations laid down by one's past behaviour. Let me see if I can clarify what I mean with respect to the various facets of my life I mentioned above.

Firstly, here I am as an expat in a strange (to me) country. What do the Germans expect of me? What do I expect of the Germans? I occasionally visit an expat message board dealing with life in Germany, and it is crystal-clear that those who come over here expecting the Germans to be dour, humourless and bureaucratic sausage-eaters do indeed find them to be such (these tend to be the same people who complain about not being able to find specific British or American foods in the shops and who live for the sound of English being spoken). Conversely, those who are more positive and open-minded in their expectations often find them fulfilled wonderfully - so the message I find is, expect the best, even if you're not quite sure what that is, and it will mostly happen. I have personally found this to be the case. Strangers have fallen over themselves to be helpful. New German friends can be marvellously expressive, enthusiastic and tactile. Colleagues have such a wicked sense of humour that I have seldom had such fun in rehearsals. (OK am still having a little trouble with the obsession with pig products at table, but am really trying to keep an open mind; maybe it's simply a built-in prejudice against German food on my behalf...).

As to what the Germans expect from me, well one MAJOR plus I find as an expat Englishwoman is that I am not immediately put in a box according to the perceived class of my accent. I'm just a foreigner. No-one knows or cares whether I'm more likely to have tea with the Queen or keep ferrets around my person. I'm sure that most British readers will know what I mean. For the rest, suffice it to say that it's quite a weight off my shoulders. As a foreigner, I find that the Germans are extraordinarily welcoming to those who take the trouble to learn their language (interesting comparisons can be made with other countries, but I won't go there today). I can't tell you how helpful most officials have been, simply because I've disarmed them from the start by apologising in German for how dreadful my German is. Something in the psyche means they're forced to contradict you with a smile, and whatever transaction is taking place must thereafter be pleasant...

Language and cultural considerations apart, I am in a new city, interacting with people who do not know me. I have the chance to get rid of any aspects of my behaviour with which I am bored or annoyed. Yes, that has meant having to sit down and think what I want to change, and how I can substitute new behaviours, but it's a great opportunity, and the real upside of plonking yourself down in the middle of a completely strange country! Matters of personality aside, such things as transforming in an instant from a sullen London commuter to someone who cycles everywhere are hugely refreshing and give hope to whatever other transformations await.

New flat, then. Basically speaking, white box with stunning river view and, erm, no furniture. I bought a few basics but am letting the decorating and furnishing be an organic process. I'll live with the minimum for the moment, and see what I really need and what I really want as I live with the space. I am not constrained by my previous tastes. I am also not accountable to anyone else, so if I wish to cover my bed with kitschy fake-fur throws and cushions, well I shall do so. Light parquet floor means I really need to transform myself into someone who likes sweeping - am working on that!

Complementing all the above, and indeed in many ways facilitating it, because as an artist one MUST be open-minded as to new intepretations, is my work as an opera singer. Each new role is a chance to discover something else about one's voice (especially when, because of the nature of the Fest system, one has to contend with roles which are NOT perfect for one's natural abilities). Dramatically, too, one has one's own ideas about a role when preparing it, but it's possible to learn so much from trying the fresh (or strange, or seemingly completely off-the-wall) perspectives of the director.

Gosh. That turned into a bit of an essay; sorry! Can you tell I have a free morning for the first time in a while? In fact I have most of the day to myself - time to think about the above, to meet friends for coffee and to secure a nice claw-hammer from somewhere. Tonight is the KHP for the Bartered Bride (Klavierhauptprobe or piano dress rehearsal - and in answer to a previous query, no, the piano remains in its natural state, it is we singers who get to don our costumes, find out whether we can actually run up steep slopes in the shoes we're given, and see what we look like with Mrs Thatcher hair...).

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. I've allowed my flat furnishings to be an "organic process" (well said, btw) for years! Maybe it's simply because I'm happy with not much. Being not accountable to others, and not having to force certain ideas that one "must have" upon myself is very liberating. (And I just vacuum my light parquet. Much more fun than sweeping!)

    Thanks for sharing!
    Greetz from your Canadian Ex-pat friend in Germany, Tim